"Highest mountain, lowest abyss": Inside ORBIT CULTURE's most extreme album yet | Revolver

"Highest mountain, lowest abyss": Inside ORBIT CULTURE's most extreme album yet

In Flames-endorsed upstarts are ready to take their place among Sweden's elite metal class
Orbit Culture 2023 mag 1600x900 , Oscar Dziedziela
Orbit Culture
photograph by Oscar Dziedziela

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Orbit Culture have just played the biggest show of their lives — and bandleader Niklas Karlsson is still trying to wrap his head around it.

On June 15th, shortly after kicking off their 2023 European tour, Sweden's rising melodeath stars plugged in for an afternoon performance at the massive Graspop Heavy Metal Meeting in Belgium.

With an estimated festival-wide audience of 150,000 and a lineup that saw the group playing alongside heavy metal icons — including Guns N' Roses, Ghost, Pantera and At the Gates — it was the kind of experience that singer-guitarist Karlsson, 29, had been dreaming about ever since he started the band a decade ago in the small town of Eksjö, Sweden.

The crowd that gathered before them was going wild — and Orbit Culture stepped up and took full advantage of the moment.

"We're here to stay," says Karlsson, reflecting on that pivotal show a few days later from a hotel room in Spain. "That's the statement a show like that makes."

"Before [Graspop], our friend went out to the crowd to take a photo and said, 'Dudes, this is the biggest thing you ever did,'" adds guitarist Richard Hansson, 32, while sharing a round of beers with his bandmates. "It was fucking packed with people. I was stoked because it's like now we can really prove ourselves."

Orbit Culture have traveled a great distance, both figuratively and literally, to get to this place in their career. Karlsson's work ethic and musical vision — the latter which sees the songwriter processing personal trauma and addressing topics like self-harm through a style of death metal that nods to early Gojira, Lamb of God and Meshuggah — has earned them a rapidly expanding fanbase, and a reputation as one of the most exciting new metal bands in Europe.

Orbit Culture's aspirational spirit has driven them since their earliest days. As far back as their debut full-length, 2014's In Medias Res, Karlsson and his band have displayed an outsized sense of scope and ambition, even when working from humble DIY means.

Their new and fourth album, Descent, is Orbit Culture's grandest and most climactic statement to date. The record reflects and amplifies the growing fervor surrounding the band, which has reached a fever pitch over the last year — thanks, in part, to the generosity of their Swedish death-metal forebears.

By Karlsson's estimation, Orbit Culture played 100 shows between June 2022 and June 2023, which is more than double the number of gigs they performed in the previous 12-month span. A major catalyst in that change was In Flames, who invited their young countrymen to open for their U.S. tour.

"Somehow the In Flames crew saw we were playing the same [U.S.] festival and asked if we'd like to join the American run," says Karlsson. "And we were like, 'Fuck yeah!'" This cosign from the melodeath icons boosted Orbit Culture's cred — and the increased touring time also directly influenced the musical direction of Descent.

Karlsson says their goal for the new album, first and foremost, was to create the kind of thrilling listening experience that would translate well in front of a festival audience. The process helped Orbit Culture craft an expansive set of songs that channels their diverse influences — Lamb of God's groove, Metallica's pop-friendly heaviness, even a subtle hint of late EDM icon Avicii's rhythmic pulse — while exploring an even greater range of extremes: from immense, punishing and raucous ("From the Inside") to melodic, anthemic and accessible ("Sorrower").

"We wanted it to be a live-friendly album, but in the end it turned out to be this big-ass darker monster," says Karlsson of the record's light-and-shade duality. "That's what we're pushing for: the highest mountain to the lowest abyss."

Fittingly, as Orbit Culture — which is rounded out by drummer Christopher Wallerstedt and bassist Fredrik Lennartsson — soar to greater musical heights, Karlsson's songwriting digs even deeper into his dark experiences and internal struggles with anxiety and harm OCD. Much like he did on 2020's Nija, he continues to work through feelings of isolation and depression on new songs

"Black Mountain" and "From the Inside," while combining it with imagery from cinematic fantasy like director Denis Villeneuve's Dune. Karlsson's confessional songwriting serves as a form of therapy for the singer, and its compelling balance of escapism and uncomfortable truths is one of the aspects of Orbit Culture that most resonates with listeners.

Orbit Culture press 2023 1600x900
Orbit Culture

"When I see fan comments [saying] they're going through something dark, I know I have those thoughts, too, sometimes," Hansson adds. "Knowing that they can relate to our music, that's fucking fantastic. If our music can help people, that's good enough for us."

"We have the kind of band where we're all in this together," says Karlsson. "But when those guys aren't around, music keeps me sane."

Karlsson and his bandmates are clearly unafraid to acknowledge the darkness of the human condition. But as the horizon continues to unfold on the busiest phase of their career, they also see brighter skies ahead of them, and are content to enjoy the moment. After all, says Karlsson, "We're having the fucking time of our lives."